Popular author Jane Heller has taken a slight detour from her romantic novels to bring us You'd Better Not Die or I'll Kill You: A Caregiver's Survival Guide to Keeping You In Good Health and Good Spirits.
"I think we all need to have certain guides to lead us. We don't have a manual for raising kids or elderly parents or for being a caregiver. So that's what I wanted this book to do." -- Jane Heller
Jane started out as a publicist representing authors. Now, 13 very humorous romance books later, she is an acclaimed writer herself. After reading her guide, I am amazed at how she has kept her sense of humor while being her husband's caregiver for many years.
You can tell by the title of her book that Jane is certainly not letting the stress and strain get her down completely. She recently shared some valuable tips and a new outlook on caregiving with me in this excerpt of our interview on The Women's Eye Radio Show.
Stacey: Were there a lot of rejected titles? Because this was a really good one.
Jane: No. Actually this is the first thing that popped into my mind because I wanted to set the tone that this is not going to be a Debbie Downer book. But, also, it is literally what I say to my husband, Michael, who has Crohn's disease, every time he goes into surgery.
When they'd wheel him up on the gurney to the double doors for the operating room, there he'd be and the nurse would say this is where you have to say your good-byes. And I would lean down and wag my finger and say you better not die or I'll kill you. And he would laugh and off he'd go.
I always thought that was better -- sending him off with a smile -- than having him see me all weepy and nervous. So that became the title for the book.
Stacey: It really works well because it takes a bit of the edge and the stress off. It's that little moment of levity that puts everybody at ease.
Jane: I think humor helps, period. I think it certainly keeps me balanced. There are situations that are not funny and I, in no way, want to be trivializing or dismissive of what caregivers go through. But I think there are times when we have to step back and say, you know, this is absurd and if I can't laugh at it, well, then I'm sunk.
"So many of us neglect our own health because we feel that it's self-indulgent to take time away from caring for our loved one."
Stacey: It's probably what's gotten you through this for so many years, too. If it was all doom and gloom, your health could really have been negatively affected. You might not have stayed in there for the long haul.
Jane: That's right. We caregivers do have to take care of ourselves. So many of us neglect our own health because we feel that it's self-indulgent to take time away from caring for our loved one. That couldn't be further from the truth because if we can't be healthy enough to do it, who's going to?
Stacey: This is your 15th book. You are your best promotional expert because this is how you started out, promoting other authors -- people like Erica Jong. Being an author wasn't something you ever thought was going to be your destiny, right?
Jane: This is true. In fact, I was raised by a mother who cared for two sick husbands. My father died of cancer when I was 6, and then she married my stepfather, who ended up dying of complications from epilepsy.
I said to myself some people marry for money and some people marry for looks; I'm going to marry for health. I've seen too many men drop dead in my life, and I'm going to marry a man without a medical flaw. Well, the joke is on me.
There is no such thing. We are thrust into the role because nobody knows what the future holds so I became one of the 65 million or so caregivers. We say the vows in sickness and in health when we stand there at the altar. I don't know that in the throes of passion anybody pays a whole lot of attention to that part of the vow.
Jane Heller and her husband, Michael
Stacey: So many of your books are romance novels with the Jane Heller lighthearted flare. But this book, while it's a nonfiction guide, it is a romantic story because it's the story about you and your husband. Underneath all of it, is this really a love story?
Jane: You have to really love somebody to go through some of the things we have. We just celebrated our 20th anniversary, and it's been a bumpy ride!
When you're talking about spousal caregiving, it really is important to make sure that the person you're caring for doesn't feel like a burden. I write about the power of touch and how important it is to touch the person that you're caring for.
Stacey: I think another thing that's really important -- and this is something I told my mom as she was going through it with my dad -- is that while you're caring for someone else, do not neglect yourself. This was something that you didn't talk about until writing this book. Is this your big coming out?
Jane: I would say that. I did neglect my health because I said how can I take time to go to the doctor. I'll just wait. So you end up putting off things and that's not a good thing.
You don't sleep; you don't eat. In 2010, Michael was in the hospital four times having had two surgeries. I don't think I took a breath that whole time. It was a rough year. I suffered the consequences really.
Stacey: Is it important for caregivers to have a list of silver linings?
Jane: Yes, because we can get very dark and think very low. It's important to always try to really literally make a list. What are the bonuses here that I didn't know I would have?
Stacey: Jane, I have to thank you so much for writing this survival guide! It's a very helpful book for anybody who needs it and there are certainly a lot of us who do or will.
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